KUCHING, Nov 11: Sarawak has the potential to become South East Asia’s non-radioactive rare earth elements or NR-REE processing hub.
According to a survey conducted by Malaysia Geoscience and Mineral Department (JMG) Sarawak, five areas in Sarawak showed that the total value of NR-REE exceeded 300ppm namely Munggu Belian in Lundu, Kg Serikin (Bau), Kg Sorak Melayu and Kg Riih in Serian, and Berikok (Simunjan).
In revealing this, Krian assemblyman Ali Biju thus urged the state government to look seriously into exploring and developing this new industry in Sarawak in view of its high world market demand and the unending production of technology-based devices.
“These areas have promising potential for follow-up studies for reserve assessment purposes.
“The value of 330 ppm is far above the level of economic viability,” he informed the august House in debating the Supply (2021) Bill (2020) today.
Noting that the state’s precious petroleum reserves were not infinite, Ali emphasised that at some point, in the near future, Sarawak will need to look at developing other industries and sources of wealth.
“Rare earth elements, metals and alloys that contain them, are used in many devices that people use every day such as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets and fluorescent lighting and much more.
“As long as there is a demand for the latest smartphones with heavy-duty batteries, the market continues to grow and shows no indication of slowing down anytime soon,” he said.
Ali shared that China has the highest reserves of rare earth minerals at 44 million metric tonnes and was also the world’s leading rare earth producer in 2018.
The Bayan Obo deposit in Inner Mongolia, he continued, containing 48 metric tonnes of rare earth oxides (REO) resources, is considered to be the world’s biggest, rare earth deposit.
“Taking China as an example, one acre of an area with NR-REE potential returns an upstream revenue of RM240,000.
“Sarawak is blessed with huge areas of volcanic rock and weathered soil, identified to be the source of NR-REE and the same as that in China. The areas covered by this type of rock and soil alone in Sarawak is not less than 20,000 km sq,” he revealed.
For the NR-REE development industry to become sustainable for the state, Ali said that Sarawak needed to exploit not only the upstream production but also downstream production, which is the setting up of processing plants.
“We already have a cheap energy supply from our hydro-electric dams. We have access to cost-effective labour and relatively cheap operations cost. We are also geographically well situated along commercial shipping lanes,” he added.
However, he stressed that Sarawak would need to start preparing the ground for this new industry.
“We need to review, amend, and ratify the various Acts and Ordinances and existing legislation that regulates the NR-REE mining so that the commercial exploitation of this valuable state asset is protected,” he said.
Therefore, Ali who is also Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, said that his Ministry is currently working on crafting policies and guidelines for NR-REE as well as studying the legal implications for proper regulation.
“We also need to set up Minerals Development Authorities and Minerals Mining Agencies that will be the key regulatory bodies in charge of this valuable asset of the nation.
“In addition, the state government can also craft local policies for the development of the NR-REE mining and development industry while ensuring our environment is protected,” he added. – DayakDaily